I consider a volunteer to be anyone who could be doing something else with her time instead of talking to me. Whether you’re a funder, policymaker or voter, I need to do what I can to keep you engaged in my campaign. A great way to do this is with the ask-thank-inform-involve organization building cycle, as perfected by the Sierra Club. It looks like this:
Ask: “Hey, will you sign our letter to Senator Garcia?”
Thank: “Thanks for signing our letter! You’re such a superstar volunteer, you’re invited to our pizza party where you’ll receive an award.”
Inform: “Hey, remember that letter you signed to Senator Garcia? It caught his attention and he’s scheduled a hearing on our issue.”
Involve: “Will you be part of our pre-hearing organizing team? We’ll be assembling packets for the media and planning how to follow up afterwards.”
Be sure you’re asking people to do something that both interests them and is appropriate for their skill level. Don’t ask a new and inexperienced volunteer to run a press conference and don’t ask a former CEO to sharpen pencils. If you bore or overwhelm your volunteers they’ll go away. Managing volunteers’ expectations about how difficult it will be to win your particular campaign is important too. Little victories can help retain volunteers and boost morale for the long haul.
The ask-thank-inform-involve cycle is just the first step towards building a relationship. Don’t treat your supporters like they’re on an assembly line. You still have to find your energetic, reliable (and possibly overworked) volunteers and get to know their individual self-interests. Avoid relating to supporters like they’re tools toward your goals. Remember, people do things for their reasons, not for yours. Find out what’s in it for them. Do they want to develop new skills? Make new contacts? Look good to their bosses? You should help them get there.
What have you done to retain or repel volunteers? I want to hear about it.
And if you haven’t already downloaded these free guides, you can get them at the links below. If you can think of other tools that would be helpful, please let me know.
One of the biggest challenges organizations have is the campaign planning process. To help serve them, I’ve created a guide of the 11 essential points that I use with organizations, as well as with my grad students at Johns Hopkins. In it you’ll find the critical elements your campaign must have. Use this as an easy reference guide for staff, volunteers & trainers.
- The 10 steps of power mapping
- The questions to ask and where to find answers
- Easy reference guide for staff, volunteers & trainers
- What coalitions do
- Who to recruit
- How to pick the best coalition name
- Attracting diverse coalition partners10
- Leadership & structure of coalitions